PirateIllustrated - ECU Heats Up Early And Holds On to Beat SMU 52-38
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ECU Heats Up Early And Holds On to Beat SMU 52-38

Jireh Wilson's 39-yard fumble recovery added fuel to the 45 point first half bonfire in ECU's 52-38 win over SMU.
Jireh Wilson's 39-yard fumble recovery added fuel to the 45 point first half bonfire in ECU's 52-38 win over SMU. (ECU Photo)

ECU exploded for 45 points first half point and held off a 31-point SMU second half rally to take a 52-38 win over SMU on senior day Saturday in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

Ja’Quan McMillian’s second interception of the contest snuffed out a late Mustang drive with 2:42 to play after the Mustangs clawed their way back to within 14 points and the Pirates were able to run out the bulk of the clock to preserve the victory.

All told, Holton Ahlers went 20 for 29 through the air for 298 yards and four touchdowns including a pair of touchdown strikes to Blake Proehl.

“It means a lot. All year this is kind of what we expected our offense to be. Obviously we had a couple of letdowns this season,” said Ahlers, “It was good to end it right and end it the way we expected to play all year.”

ECU’s 45-7 lead going into the locker room at the half gave the Pirates big momentum coming into the second half.

“It was huge momentum. Big shoutout to the defense and the O-line, but for the defense to stop that offense with that quarterback is huge,” Ahlers told PirateIllustrated.com, “Then on offense, those guys blocked up front and we made plays with the receivers.”

Keaton Mitchell rushed for 68 yards on 20 carries and scored a pair of touchdowns and Darius Pinnix came through with several timely runs that kept the first down chains moving and in the process kept Pirate scoring drives alive.

Shane Buechele threw for 314 yards on 35 of 50 passing with two touchdowns but a pair of interceptions helped ECU break serve and give the ECU offense momentum.

The win was just the Pirates’ third (official) win of the season and afterward, ECU head coach Mike Houston said it was only a matter of time before his team turned in this kind of performance.

“I’ve been waiting on this game. I didn’t know when it was going to happen. I thought it was going to happen at Tulsa. You almost had it against Navy, but you’ve been waiting on that game where you finally felt like everything just flipped,” said Houston.

“Their attitude, their work ethic, the kind of teammates that they are. They have been doing things right consistently inside and outside of the program and you are starting to see those tangible results on the field.”

SMU has enjoyed strong success this season so a win over the Mustangs does wonders for the attitude of this ECU team heading into the offseason as well as next season.

“I’m excited for them. That’s a good football team that we played. They are going to go to a bowl game. They have a good resume’ this year and quality wins, but certainly today was a great day to be a Pirate,” Houston stated.

Jared Wilson’s 39-yard fumble recovery with ECU(3-6/3-5 AAC) already up 21-7, after an end-around touchdown pass from Tyler Snead to Blake Proehl, put ECU in a position to blow the Mustangs out.

“I set the edge and then half of my teammates rallied to the ball and they had him held up,” said Wilson, “So every time they have a guy held up, I try to go for the ball and it came out this time.”

Wilson said it felt good to be on the winning side of things after several setbacks earlier in the season where ECU could have easily won with a break or two.

“It felt good to be on that end for once. We work too hard week in and week out to keep losing games like we do and we just wanted to get one of these wins to shut it down and prove that we belong in this conference,” Wilson stated, “All week we were saying we wanted to end the season on top and go into the offseason with some confidence and that’s what we did.”

East Carolina receiver Tyler Snead finds running room down the sideline in Saturday's senior day win over SMU.
East Carolina receiver Tyler Snead finds running room down the sideline in Saturday's senior day win over SMU. (Photo courtesy of ECU Athletics)

SCORING SUMMARY

After an ECU defensive stop to open the game, Luke Larson’s fake punt against a soft SMU defensive edge on fourth down was good for 25 yards. It kept the Pirates’ first drive alive and a Keaton Mitchell nine-yard touchdown run had ECU up by a touchdown early.

The Pirates’ second straight stop on fourth down gave ECU the football on the SMU 34 yard line. Three plays later, Holton Ahlers found Blake Proehl for an 11-yard touchdown and a 14-0 Pirate lead.

The Mustangs came right back down the field on a proficient offensive drive that led to a Kyle Granson 6-yard touchdown snag on a pass from Shane Buechele that trimmed the ECU lead to 14-7.

Tyler Snead then found Blake Proehl on a 35-yard end around touchdown pass for a 21-7 lead.

Jireh Wilson’s fumble recovery for ECU and 39-yard return to the SMU 32 led to a 14-yard C.J. Johnson touchdown catch from Holton Ahlers and a 28-7 lead with eleven minutes left in the half. It was the longest ECU fumble return since Chip Thompson’s 35-yard fumble return in 2012 against Appalachian State.

Holton Ahlers found Keaton Mitchell out of the backfield on a seven-yard touchdown to cap a seven play, 60-yard drive and 35-7 lead. It was the most ECU has ever scored in the first half of an AAC game. It also tied a 35-point output against UNC in 2014.

Ahlers then found Snead in the back of the end zone for a 16-yard score and the ECU lead expanded to 42-7 with four minutes left in the half. It was the most first half points since 1991.

A 29-yard Jake Verity field goal with one second remaining in the half found the Pirates up 45-7 at halftime.

But SMU found their way on the scoreboard with 8:12 to go in the third quarter on a one yard plunge from Shane Buchele. Then his pass for a two-point conversion to Rashee Rice made the score 45-15. Ulysses Bentley’s 26-yard touchdown grab then cut the ECU lead to 45-21 after SMU’s two-point conversion attempt was unsuccessful.

After another SMU second half defensive stop, Chris Naggar’s 36-yard field goal brought the Mustangs even closer at 45-24 as time expired in the third quarter.

But less than two minutes later, ECU found their way into the end zone again on a Darius Pinnix two-yard plunge to cap a 75-yard drive that put ECU up 52-24.

A pass interference on Nolan Johnson in the SMU end zone led to a five-yard Tyler Levine touchdown run in a 52-31 contest.

SMU then recovered a fumble on the kickoff at the ECU 14-yard line and then parlayed that into a four-yard Tyler Levine touchdown in a 52-38 game with seven minutes to play.

An ECU fumble on the ensuing drive was countered by a Ja’Quan McMillan interception of Buschele with 3:23 to play and the Pirates held on for the win.

BOX SCORE & STATISTICS